UPDATE: Kershaw gets the nod.
I’ve been getting a lot of pushback on my post from this morning about starting Clayton Kershaw on short rest today. I get the pushback.
In terms of probabilities and game theory and stuff, it’s probably the wrong call, actually. The Dodgers don’t have to just win one game, they have to win two. And the question isn’t “is Kershaw better than Urias today?” It’s “is Kershaw today and Urias in Game 5 better than the reverse?” Or, if Urias has to relieve Kershaw today, “Is Kershaw/Urias today and bullpen salad and/or tired Rich Hill or something in Game 5 better?” The answer to that may very well be “don’t pitch Kershaw today, save him for a Game 5.”
But it’s also the case that Dave Roberts doesn’t have the luxury of making those calculations in a vacuum. Not to go full Luddite here, but the fact is that Roberts has to contend with 25 players in his clubhouse, all of whom likely have strong feelings about this, and who likely favor the veteran, all-world, team-leader over the rookie, because that’s how players operate. Yes, it’s Roberts’ job to lead them and show them that his course is correct if it differs from theirs, but that’s a hard battle to win in short time, even if Roberts is adamant about playing the percentages over his gut. Assuming his gut is to go with Kershaw, which I feel like it would be.
What’s more, Roberts has to deal with his bosses in the front office and the folks in the press and Dodgers fans and all of that. I’m not suggesting that Roberts should be a weather vane and do what he thinks is most popular. I’m just saying it’s unrealistic to think that he’s not at least aware of those pressures and voices and that his decision making may not be impacted by it somewhat.
Most important in all of that is what the front office, which is very tactically hands-on in Los Angeles, thinks. What do they think about starting Clayton Kershaw on short rest in the playoffs? If it’s that Game 4 * Game 5 math mentioned above, sure, it’s easy. But might they think differently? Here’s what they thought when this exact scenario came up last year:
The Dodgers are aware of the statistics. General Manager Farhan Zaidi acknowledged the “evidence,” as he put it Monday.
“But every guy is different,” he said. “And every guy’s standard is different. I mean, really, there isn’t much nuance to it. We did look at everything about his performance when he’s done it before and his velocity, his spin rates were all pretty much the same as usual.”
So it’s not quite as clear. Different standards for Kershaw and Kershaw’s standard being a bit more lenient for short rest starts than others. But it’s the latter bit that is more significant, I think: Kershaw’s recent performance. I think how he looked mechanically to Zaidi and his staff in Game 1 of this series probably matters a lot more than the game theory stuff mentioned above. As does the state of is back, which is obviously different this year than last. There is likely a LOT more going into this decision than just “Game 4 * Game 5” analysis.
As I said this morning, if I’m Dave Roberts I go with Kershaw. And yes, I’ll grant that a lot of that is based on my gut and what I imagine I’d be thinking if I were Dave Roberts. I’ll grant that it’s not some no-brainer decision, however, and that basic strategy suggests not pitching him. That basic strategy though, at least as commenters and critics of my post this morning have stated it, does not take all of the real world and behind the scenes stuff into account, and I think that’s just as naive as me blithely going with my gut.
Ultimately it’s baseball, of course, and crazy crap happens. Kershaw could start and get shelled or go eight innings allowing one hit. Urias could do either or something in between. Or Martians could invade during the fourth inning. If that happens, it’ll just make next year’s short rest decision in a Division Series all the more difficult for us to analyze. We’d be all, “well, if the Martians come back in Game 2 instead of Game 3 . . .”